AURORA | Following a large march at the private immigration detention facility in Aurora on Friday, police chief Nick Metz said his agency is pursuing investigation into demonstrators who were “involved in criminal behavior.”
During the demonstration, which was organized by Lights for Liberty along with other marches and vigils across the country, some attendees overtook a barrier separating the facility, owned and operated by GEO Group Inc., from the street and sidewalk. They then took down the U.S. flag, GEO company flag and a Colorado flag, burned them and replaced them with a Mexican flag, defaced upside down “Thin Blue Line” police hero banner that had disparaging anti-cop graffiti, and a flag that condemned police officers.
“On a site visit, both Deputy Chief O’keefe and I highly recommended to the GEO/ICE staff that they secure the entire width of the bridge leading into the facility with water filled barriers to prevent vehicles and pedestrians from entering,” Metz said in a post on the department’s Facebook page. “It seemed from the conversation that they were planning to take our advice.”
Instead, the facility placed a plastic chain and a “no trespassing” sign at the driveway that leads up to the detention center.
During the protest, organizers urged demonstrators to stay on the street and sidewalk. Aurora police blocked off Oakland Street to most traffic for the demonstration.
About an hour-and-a-half into the demonstration, organizers called on the crowd to disperse for fear the police would intervene. But the police never did. Metz described the event to the Sentinel and on Twitter as “peaceful.”
“The decision to not intervene at the time was based on protecting the safety of the large majority who were acting peacefully, and the safety of the officers,” Metz said. “Our folks were more than ready to decisively engage had we witnessed assaultive behavior or damage to the building or surrounding property that could jeopardize its security or public safety.”
According to Metz, there was no indication demonstrators were engaging in behavior that “warranted immediate intervention.”
Metz’s decision has been met with criticism on social media, but he said in his statement it was important for his officers to be strategic in not escalating the situation.
Now, Metz said the department will work to review available video to try and identify those who were involved in what he describes as “criminal behavior.”
Claudia Castillo, a 22-year military intelligence major in the U.S. Army and current legal services coordinator for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, told the Denver Post that she pleaded with the group of about 25 at that pulling down the flag wasn’t part of the plan. Castillo says that rather than pull back, members of the group spit on her, shoved her, and cursed at her.
“It was disgusting and shameful,” Castillo told the Post. “They have compromised our movement, and they stole the spotlight and endangered our undocumented people.”
Police are asking anybody with video footage of those individuals to email [email protected]
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.